Marlin 1895 Dark Rifle

Marlin 1895 Dark Rifle

By Mike Dickerson

Ruger’s first reintroduction in the Marlin Dark Series rifle line is a vast improvement over the original

Marlin tried to give lever guns a tacti-cool look with the introduction of its Dark Series rifles in 2019 when Marlin was owned by Remington, but the only things “dark” about those guns were their blackened wooden stocks and Parkerized finish. The most significant advancement was the addition of a Picatinny rail. It was no secret at the time that quality control suffered during Big Green’s decline and bankruptcy. Happily, Ruger acquired Marlin in 2020 and has reintroduced several Marlin lever guns to rave reviews. Quality is back.

A radial muzzle brake muzzle brake is factory equipment for the 1895 Dark, but its 16.17-inch barrel is threaded to 11/16-24 at the muzzle to also allow attachment of your favorite sound suppressor. Dead Air’s ultra-versatile Primal suppressor is shown here ( A nearly full-length aluminum forend with over 20 M-LOK attachment points handles accessory duty. The ultra-bright front sight combines a green fiber-optic tube with an outer Tritium ring for low/no light work.

Now, Ruger is resurrecting the Dark Series, beginning with the 1895 Dark rifle chambered in 45-70 Govt. This rifle offers significant improvements and upgraded features over the original and is arguably what a Dark Series rifle should have been from the beginning.

Some traditionalists may sneer at the appearance of this rifle and assert that any lever gun equipped with anything other than a walnut stock is a sin against humanity. That’s fine because they will find plenty to like in the traditionally appointed, Ruger-resurrected Marlin models 336, 1894, and 1895.

The 1895 Dark is aimed at a considerable market segment that cares little about appearance and much about performance. The 1895 Dark is a modernized take on a traditional design that offers greater adaptability and flexibility for a range of applications. It allows you to set the rifle up in any configuration you wish, with suppressors, lights, lasers, and any sort of optic.

The lever loop resides somewhere between a “large” and “standard” in size and strikes a nice compromise between being unnecessarily huge and having to shoehorn a gloved hand inside. The rear adjustable peep sight and hammer spur extension are factory equipment. You can expect 30-30 Win. chambered 336 and .44 Rem. Mag. chambered 1894 Dark Series models to be available later this year.

With the 1895 Dark, you are well-equipped for hunting, at modest ranges, for just about anything that walks North America. The rifle will make short work of deer and is an excellent choice for hogs, elk, moose, and black bears at a reasonable distance for the cartridge. Lever action rifles in 45-70 Govt. have long been popular for protection against grizzlies, especially when loaded with tough, deep-penetrating bullets like those from Buffalo Bore. Some people will tell you that the 45-70 is inadequate for this purpose, but some people are still breathing today because they had a lever gun handy and loaded with proper 45-70 Govt. ammo.

The nylon-reinforced polymer stock that’s fitted to the Dark Series features textured palm swell panels, a snap on/off cheek weld riser, M-LOK cuts along the center, ambi QD sling swivel cups, and a very adequate soft-rubber recoil pad.

Even at a glance, the 1895 Dark rifle has an all-business appearance. It’s equipped with a nylon-reinforced polymer stock with three M-Lok attachment points and two flush cup attachment points for QD sling swivels. A cheek riser is included for proper eye alignment with an optic. The stock has a soft rubber recoil pad that works in concert with a detachable radial muzzle brake on the barrel to reduce recoil. In testing, I expected a long session at the bench to produce a sore shoulder, but that didn’t happen. Recoil was certainly noticeable but entirely manageable, and I found I could run the gun fast from the shoulder. The recoil pad has a grippy texture, but rounded edges reduce snagging on clothing.

The rifle is equipped with a 16.17-inch cold hammer-forged, alloy steel barrel threaded (11/16-24) to accept a muzzle brake or sound suppressor. It has six-groove rifling with a 1:20 righthand rate of twist. The barrel is tipped with a fiber optic front sight with a tritium ring for enhanced low-light visibility. It works with an adjustable ghost ring rear sight mounted atop the rear of an 11.25-inch Picatinny rail.

Leupold’s ( Patrol 6HD 1-6X24 riflescope — mounted to the rifle’s extended Picatinny rail via Leupold’s Mark AR 30mm one-piece mount — was a versatile pairing with for the 1895 and its potential speed, range, and endless number of end uses. Holding an additional six rounds at the ready, an M-LOK mounted Ranger Point Precision ( Cartridge Quiver was also used during testing.

A prominent feature of the rifle is its aluminum handguard, which has two QD sling swivel attachment points and more than 20 M-Lok attachment points at the 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9 o’clock positions for mounting accessories. Beneath the barrel, you’ll find a tubular magazine that holds five rounds. With one up the pipe, that’s six rounds of potent 45-70 Govt. medicine at the ready.

The rifle feeds with moderate ease through a side gate, and it ejects to the side. The action has a half-cock safety and a traditional cross-bolt safety. Notably, the lever must be pushed (with a solid clicking sound) into the fully closed position before the trigger will drop, so the gun can’t fire if it’s out of battery. The mid-sized finger loop has a bit of flare on the bottom for comfortable operation. I prefer it over the oversized loop on the original Dark Series guns. The receiver, trigger guard plate, and lever are CNC-machined from alloy steel, and all major components have a protective black Cerakote finish. The bolt and lever have a nitride finish.

The rifle fed, fired, and extracted all tested ammo without issue. Overall length is 35.5 inches, making the rifle handy and easy to maneuver in tight spots or thick cover. Empty weight, without an optic, base, or rings, is 7 lbs., making it light enough for most jobs. It balances nicely in the hands and is quick to the shoulder.

The Marlin 1895 Dark rifle produced excellent 100-yard accuracy, especially with Hornady’s LeverEvolution 325-grain FTX load. The best group, shown here, measured an impressive 1.01-inches center-to-center.

The trigger on the rifle sent to me for testing was quite good, even though it had a fairly heavy trigger pull weight of 5 lbs., which is not unusual for lever action rifles. The trigger had a bit of very loose initial take-up, but it stacked solidly and broke crisply with no creep.

I tested the gun with a Leupold Patrol 6HD 1-6X24 scope — a perfect choice for many applications with the rifle — mounted to the gun’s Picatinny rail with Leupold’s Mark AR 30mm mounting system. This mount is a one-piece, integrated base-and-ring design that’s cantilevered to allow you to position the scope with proper eye alignment.

I had only three loads on hand for testing, including Federal’s 300-grain Fusion load, Remington’s 300-grain SJHP load, and Hornady’s LEVERevolution 325-grain FTX load. Measured velocities for all three loads were, on average, 136 fps slower than factory advertised speeds, but that was to be expected out of the rifle’s shorter barrel.

Accuracy results with the two 300-grain loads were about what I expected from big-bore, straight-walled cartridges with traditional bullet profiles. With three three-shot groups at 100 yards, the Federal Fusion load turned in 3-inch average groups. The Remington load yielded slightly better average groups and a 1.25-inch best group. Groups shot at 50 yards with both rounds averaged 1.5 inches.

Even though the Marlin 1895 Dark rifle is chambered for the potent .45-70 Govt. cartridge, recoil proved quite manageable, whether using the rifle’s factory radial muzzle brake or shooting suppressed with the Dead Air Primal sound suppressor. The soft rubber recoil pad doesn’t hurt either. Cycling the action is smooth, fast, and — if we’re being honest — quite satisfying of an experience.

The higher-BC 325-grain Hornady LeverEvolution load was an entirely different story. Even though it used a heavier bullet, it was the hottest load tested, with a muzzle velocity of 1,870 fps. It also had dramatically lower numbers for standard deviation (5.5 fps) and extreme spread (11.8 fps). It printed average 100-yard groups measuring just 1.49 inches and a 1.01-inch best group. That’s excellent accuracy for any lever action rifle, let alone one chambered for such a potent big-bore, straight-walled cartridge.

The rifle has an MSRP of $1,379, which is quite reasonable given the cost and complexity of manufacturing such a high-quality, feature-rich lever action rifle. See it at your nearest dealer, or for more information, contact Marlin; Tel.: 336-949-5200; Web:


Caliber:                      45-70 Govt.

Action Type:                Lever action

Barrel:                        16.17-inch alloy steel

Finish:                        Anodized and graphite-black Cerakote

Stock:                         Nylon-reinforced polymer

Handguard:                Aluminum, with M-Lok and QD attachment points

Capacity:                    5+1

Sights:                      Ghost ring rear, fiber optic front with tritium ring

Overall Length:          35.5 inches

Weight:                      7 pounds

MSRP:                       $1,379.00